In the initial years following Obamacare’s passage, Republicans remained solidly united on one crucial point: Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced, not “fixed.” But some Republicans and center-right pundits have since decided that trying to fix the president’s signature legislation is a good thing. Witness this advice from the Wall Street Journal editorial board. The Journal calls for a “subsidies-for-deregulation deal” — whereby President Obama would get his subsidies turned back on if the Supreme Court turns them off, and in exchange, Republicans would agree to help make Obamacare better.
Referring to a proposal advanced in its own pages by Senator Ron Johnson, the Journal writes,
“The best response we’ve heard [to King v. Burwell] comes from Mr. Johnson and has broad support among Senate Republicans. In the event the Court overturns the subsidies, Mr. Johnson proposes a straight extension of the subsidies through August 2017 for anyone enrolled as of this summer….
“In return, he’d restore to states the freedom to deregulate ObamaCare’s central planning diktats and offer more policy choices to consumers. Over time, the subsidies would be less necessary as markets healed.”
But markets can never really heal under Obamacare, and to the extent that Republicans try to offer partial relief, they will merely be undermining the cause of repeal. Obamacare was passed without a single Republican vote. Why would Republicans now want to give it a gloss of bipartisanship, make it somewhat less awful, and thereby reduce the clear sense of urgency of getting rid of it altogether?
The biggest danger posed by the King v. Burwell case has always been that Republican congressional leadership would take a win at the Court — in the form of a ruling that the Obama administration has been lawlessly paying out Obamacare subsidies in 37 states in defiance of the legislation’s plain text — and use it as an excuse to negotiate “fixes” to Obamacare with the Obama White House. Now that’s exactly what the Journal is saying they should do.
Under such a “subsidies-for-deregulation deal” — those are the Journal’s own words — Republicans would agree to make Obamacare better in exchange for agreeing to fund it. In other words, they would give Obama two wins for the price of one — and in response to a loss for Obama at the Court.
As we have written at the 2017 Project, and I have outlined in Senate testimony, a far better course would be for Republicans to provide an off-ramp that would lead to the effective repeal and replacement of Obamacare in up to 37 states — or even more, if some of the 13 states with their own exchanges chose to take the off-ramp as well. An Obamacare alternative like the one that House Budget Committee chairman Tom Price just introduced — with its non-income-tested refundable tax credits— would provide a good blueprint to follow in this regard.
If Republicans can’t agree upon that, then they could pass something like what Sen. Ben Sasse has advocated.
But the last thing that they should do is try to fix Obamacare and make it better. Leave that to Hillary Clinton if she wins in 2016. Republicans need to remain the party of repeal.
Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda, including a winning alternative to Obamacare.